By Cam Mather
This post is part of my ongoing “solar powered_____ (fill in the blank)___ appliance” series and this time I will discuss my solar-powered chain-saw (because when you live off-grid, everything is solar-powered!)
I’m old enough to remember the Monty Python sketch about lumberjacks, in which they sang, “I’m a lumber jack and I’m okay, I sleep all night and I work all day…I cut down trees. I wear high heels, Suspenders, and a bra.” It was pretty edgy comedy in the 1980s, although it seems pretty tame today. I’ve always wanted to be a lumberjack, from the tree-cutting point of view. We heat our house with wood cut sustainably from our wood lot. The trees die faster than I can use them for firewood. And they release the same amount of CO2 and heat that they would dropping and rotting on the forest floor.
The only real net C02 emission comes from my gas-powered chainsaw that I use to cut the trees down. Luckily on my property I get a lot of help from nature in this area. The wind brings some of the trees down and so do the beavers. Beavers do the dangerous work, cutting them down, and then they trim off the upper branches that they eat. It’s crazy. I just wish they took fewer of the smaller trees.
In my quest to make my home zero-carbon, I’m using my electric chainsaw more and more. I use the gas one to cut the trees in the bush into 3 log lengths and then I use a plastic sled to pull them to the house. Then I use the electric chainsaw to “buck” them, or to make two more cuts to end up with three fire length logs. So I end up doing two-thirds or 66% of the cutting with my electric chainsaw.
Electric chainsaws are a brilliant piece of technology. They just keep working and working. I bought mine 10 years ago for $90. I have used it for 10 years, and in recent years I have used it extensively. I haven’t had to perform any maintenance work on it. I have not changed the oil. I have not had to tune it up. I have not had to replace the sparks or the muffler or the pull cord or the dozens of other things that break on a two-stroke gas-powered chainsaw. It just keeps sawing along tirelessly, working consistently well. And I don’t smell like 2-stroke engine exhaust when I’m done.
The manual labour that this solar-powered machine displaces is phenomenal. When I talk to Ken Snider, who lived in this house 60 years ago and had to cut all of his firewood by hand, I understand why he couldn’t wait to leave this place and get to the city. It was a mind-boggling amount of work.
When Bill Kemp wrote “The Zero-Carbon Car” he kept talking about the advantages of electric motors, about how efficient they are and how much more rugged they are. The documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car” has a great scene in which the mechanic is shown removing all of the parts that an electric car doesn’t need. It was mind-boggling. No oil changes. No tune-ups. No new mufflers and tail pipes and dozens of other parts that break and need to be replaced.
Sometimes you read this stuff but it sort of sails over your head and you don’t really absorb it. Every time I use my electric chainsaw I am reminded again how great electric motors are. I marvel at how I can use the sun’s energy through my solar panels to unleash this awesome cutting power to blast through 18” chunks of oak. People often say we won’t be able to do a lot of things as well when we run out of oil. I agree but also realize that we’ll just have to accomplish some tasks differently and we should still be able to do them fairly well. One hundred years from now when we no longer have the energy to get oil out of the ground, whoever is living here at Sunflower Farm will still be able to use a solar-powered chainsaw to cut the wood to heat this home that was built in 1888. I believe the originals owners would marvel at how much more work I can accomplish by harnessing the awesome power of the sun.
This photo was taken during a “greener” time of the year – our surroundings sure aren’t that green around here right now!